Saturday, 8 December 2018

Buckland Warren Crossbills - 7 December

With the weather much improved by lunchtime, I thought it was time for my third attempt to photograph the Buckland Warren Crossbills. On my first morning visit, several weeks ago, I failed to see any birds.

More recently, on my second morning visit, I arrived by chance at exactly the same time as the Old Caley's - for a detailed account of that visit see the Old Caley's Dairy. However from my point of view, this visit showed it can be difficult to locate feeding Crossbills (they are very silent). Also in the 15min or so they were on show in the morning, I failed to get any satisfactory images.

From other accounts, afternoon appeared to be perhaps a more reliable time, hence the reason for this 3rd attempt. I arrived on-site around 13:15 and initially neither saw nor heard any sign of them. But fairly soon, I suddenly noticed a Crossbill in the top of a tree close to where I was waiting! It was even in the sun, but quite distant:
Crossbill near top of a larch

Shortly afterwards, I heard a short burst of "chipping" and a few more Crossbills, including at least two males, flew into a slightly nearer tree and immediately started feeding. At this point, I tried switching from the x1.4 converter to my newly acquired x2 converter - to see if the extra magnification would help for these still quite distant birds.

These birds stayed feeding in this tree and then another a nearer one for more than an hour, but by that time the light had gone and it was time to leave.

Although they were visible for a prolonged period I found that feeding Crossbills rarely pose for more than a second or two. In addition all the branches would often move around wildly in the gusty wind and the sun kept going behind clouds and then reappearing. So not ideal photographic conditions!

Unfortunately at this site, from the photography point of view, the light is much better in the morning, but it seems the birds prefer the afternoons!

Male Crossbills

Monday, 3 December 2018

Scotland (Rothiemurchus) - late November

Spent a few days recently in Speyside following a business trip to Aberdeen. My focus was on photography of Crested Tits and Red Squirrels, both courtesy of Neil McIntyre. Following an atrocious day in Aberdeen, the weather further west on the following days was better with only a little gentle rain and light winds. Light was generally poor though - which meant having to push up the ISO and using  max aperture. Unfortunately too early in the winter for any genuine snow in the pics, though.

See a selection of my photos below. For additional and larger images go to this page on my website

Crested Tits

Red Squirrels

Sunday, 11 November 2018

Farmoor - 10 November 2018

At Farmoor this morning there was no sign of the Red-breasted Merganser nor the Sanderling (both reported earlier in the week).

Neither was the Shrike Meadow hide very productive, apart from providing a late sighting of some Common Darters, including one tandem pair over the water. Also on nearby Buckthorn Meadow there were one or two still to be found. This was in the bright, sunny conditions in the morning, of course, before the deluge to come!

By the time I reached the Pinkhill Hide, the skies were looking pretty threatening. The Water Rail appeared quite regularly before, during and after the ensuing heavy rain. It was difficult to get photos of it clear of the stumps of the cleared vegetation though.

Click here for a larger image on my website 

Water Rail

Sunday, 28 October 2018

Kingfisher Hide - 26 October

Frustrated by my lack of recent success with Kingfisher pics in Oxon, and bearing in mind Ewan's post from earlier this year, I finally decided it was time to try, for the first time, one of the photo hides that are now offered, at price, for photographers at various locations around the country.

This day was spent at Nature Photography Hides which is near to junc 5 of the M5 at Droitwich - about a 1 and a half hour journey for me. With the forecast for Friday looking OK, earlier in the week I had phoned Darren and arranged to meet him at the Macdonalds just off the M5 at 09:00. He appeared promptly, and I then followed his car to the farm, whereupon it was a c. 5-10 min walk across fields to the Kingfisher hide, which has spaces for up to 4 photographers. It was full today.

The setup involves a Y-shaped perch arrangement, with a green mossy one to the left and a lichen and leaf one to the right. Annoyingly, the bird, when it appeared, didn't seem to realise where it was supposed to be, and sometimes landed on the unsightly junctions between them! The perches were only about 5m from the hide - so using my 500f4 with my Canon 7D MkII, the bird virtually filled the frame, without the converter! The 100-400 allowed pics with more space around the bird. I used a bean bag to support the camera & lens, which made things easier.

The weather didn't turn out as good as had been forecast earlier in the week, and the sun only really came out later in the day, with some earlier short showers. At this time of year, the perches were only in the sun for a few hours around the middle of the day, when the bird was absent. Virtually all the Kingfisher action was in a one hour period in the morning between 10:30 and 11:30 when the light wasn't brilliant. After that there was a (very) long quiet period until 16:30 when it eventually appeared briefly for the last time, before I called it a day at 17:00. In its morning appearances, the bird managed to catch 2-3 fish but would unfortunately fly off with them - not returning to the perch to eat them. Apparently a different adult bird behaves differently and can return to the perch with fish but there was no sign today of this bird (apart from a very brief aerial encounter with the sub-adult that was coming in).

However during the time the bird was on the perch it afforded some great views, allowing me to get these shots which are, by some margin, the best photos I've managed  of Kingfisher. It has also wet my appetite for attempting the rather more challenging sport of diving action shots!

For larger versions of these photos, go to this page on my website.

Saturday, 27 October 2018

Yorkshire & Norfolk: October 2018

Spent a leisurely couple of weeks recently on the east coast in Yorkshire and then North Norfolk. Very quiet at times due to unfavorable winds, but still found some good birds to photo.

The Gannets were still around at Bempton Cliffs (a site I first visited in 1964 - showing my age there!) so I tried for some flight shots on a couple of days:

Gannet close up

There were also good numbers of Tree Sparrows around the car park/visitor centre area:

Tree Sparrow

North Norfolk coast
North Norfolk provided more photo opps, as follows, but with just one (minor) rarity:

Barred Warbler at Whalsey Hills NOA

The island hide at Titchwell provided my first views of Jack Snipe on the ground. They were however pretty distant and spent 99% of their time in cover. Some patience was needed to get these photos!

Jack Snipe
Two Jack Snipes together!

Titchwell also produced some other images:

Little Egret in the late afternoon sun
Spotted Redshank

A field with a hedge allowed me to get reasonably close to a feeding flock of Pink footed Geese one evening, using the car as a hide:
Pink-footed Geese

The little harbour at Brancaster Staithe was again quite good for waders on a rising tide, despite all the disturbance:
Black-tailed Godwits

 To see more photos and larger versions of the above, click here.

Friday, 19 October 2018

Farmoor - 19 October

Had some success at Farmoor today, with thanks to Dai and Badger:

 To enlarge, click here
  To enlarge, click here
  To enlarge, click here
Black-necked Grebe

Thursday, 18 October 2018

Sunday, 23 September 2018

Farmoor 22 September am

I arrived shortly after the 08:00 gate opening time and had the place to myself to start with! However the only bird of note I found was a confiding Wheatear at the far end of the causeway. Also there were plenty of low flying House Martins around, with a few Swallows and Sand Martins. One female Red-crested Pochard was disturbed loafing on the W bank of FII.

For a larger image, go to this page on my website.


Saturday, 8 September 2018

Farmoor: Thurs 6th September

With a good forecast for the first half of the morning, I thought I'd try Farmoor firstly for possible waders on the causeway and then Migrant Hawker flight shots by the Thames, across the far side - following David Hastings' excellent photo earlier in the week.

With this strategy in mind, I didn't arrive until around 09:30 and in doing so missed the Jack Snipe on the causeway that Dai found shortly after 9am. Grr!

As it turned out, the causeway was devoid of interest for me, so I ended up fairly soon at Buckthorn Meadow. The bridge over the pool seemed a possible place to try for Migrant Hawkers, and sure enough some were performing quite well. However they were generally some distance from the bridge, so I thought it would be worth trying out the big lens for dragonfly flight shots - something I've not attempted before.

The resulting image below is a bit different because of the dark background. Yesterday I uploaded it to Flickr - something I have just started playing with. Today I find it has made into the much coveted "Explore" group pool - which will mean something only to those who use Flickr!

Migrant Hawker - for larger image click here

Friday, 24 August 2018

Standlake Pit 60: 23 August

I wasn't expecting much from this visit, given the meagre recent records by others. It was quite late in the morning that I settled into the LL hide. My initial impression was there wasn't much about -  just a Little Egret off to the left and a distant Common Sand call was about it, apart from a good flock of Sand Martins over the lake.

However after a while, the Little Egret decided to come my way, and came pretty close before taking fright and flying past the hide. It then disappeared off down the far end for a time before coming back all the way round the shore. This time the sun was out briefly and the light was better as it was approaching from the "right" (i.e. northerly) direction, and I managed to get these shots as it stopped to fish and then walked right past the hide.

Little Egret & Perch. For a larger image click here

Moments after catching the fish. For a larger image click here

Too close for my lens to get it all in!
For a larger image click here

Friday, 10 August 2018

Farmoor: 9th August - a Tale of Two visits

Following my moderately successful mid-week Farmoor morning visit a couple of weeks ago, I decided to try again today. I arrived around 08:30 to a grey and almost chilly reservoir - what a contrast to the recent enduring period of stifling hot conditions!

However the poorer weather didn't seem to have led to improved birds - in fact the reverse as the customary walk across the causeway produced only three Dunlin and two Common Sands. However, I then first heard and then saw a Yellow Wagtail that briefly landed behind me but it was very flighty and off in a moment.

Of these, from past experience I knew the latter to be very wary and almost impossible to get good photos of. I'd spent some time on my previous visit getting shots of the former and wasn't in the mood to try again. So I pressed on to Buckthorn Meadow and the Shrike Meadow hide which was devoid of dragonfly interest due to the cooler conditions. A Kingfisher from the hide briefly raised my interest when it first appeared in flight. It then reappeared and settled in a nearby tree - but in a position completely obscured by leaves. It was better placed from a different position along the hide but it clearly detected my movement and was off in a flash.

Pinkhill Hide wasn't productive at all, so I returned along the causeway, to find the Dunlin had departed leaving only the Common Sands. Remembering Ewan's recent tip about the causeway hide, I thought I'd try it and see if either of them would approach it, given they seemed to be preferring the F1 side of the causeway. This tactic eventually produced a result, albeit of a somewhat distant bird. At least there is almost no sign of the sloping concrete, which is the unwanted signature of many of  my Farmoor wader photos.

Common Sand from the causeway hide

Thereafter, just as I had reached the eastern end of the causeway, a Redshank flew in and landed half way along. I had no inclination to chase back up the causeway to try for a photo, as they, like Common Sands, as generally pretty wary. Still things were clearly moving through...

I thought that was it for Farmoor for the time being, but back at home at just before 5pm, I suddenly noticed the Oxon Blog announcing the surprising presence of a Roseate Tern back at Farmoor, found by Jeremy Dexter! This was shortly followed by a text from Badger saying the same thing. 

As this would be a county tick for me, it didn't take long to put everything back in the car and head back whence I had returned from only a few hours early. I arrived at about 17:30, and came across Jeremy departing who provided some reassurance that the bird was still present (or at least it had been when he left). A good start, but when I got up onto the eastern side of Farmoor there seemed some confusion among the assembled birders as to where the Roseate was! Someone was indicating a nearby juvenile perched close in on a pontoon, but this was then dismissed as erroneous. I and the other newly arrived birders then headed off to the eastern end of causeway to find the County Recorder himself tracking the bird in his bins. It's high up and distant over there with some other terns was the general gist of his commentary! It took me sometime to spot the distant specs he was referring to, but I then got on to them and started tracking the slightly smaller one that he said was THE bird. 

I stuck on this for some time, while the birds danced around very distantly but without moving beyond the reservoir perimeter, we thought. After several minutes the birds started coming lower and getting closer. Suddenly the Roseate flew right towards us and went past and landed distantly on the tower off the eastern side of F1. Here it remained for some time, but it was so distant only record shots were possible. 

Distant Roseate Tern

I tried getting close by going back along the causeway and a little way down the eastern side, but the angle was all wrong and so decided to return to where I had been, with the others. In doing this however I was out of position when the bird then flew over the causeway and started fishing off the pontoons on the eastern side of F1. 

I had just about got back to where I had been when it seems the bird changed its mind and starting flying back towards F1. This time I was in the right position, and I think picked up the right bird by its distinctive call (a new one for me). I got just a few frames of the bird approaching the causeway, only one of which was in focus. So a lucky shot and a good conclusion to the day. Thereafter the rain started coming down and most birders, including myself departed.

Closer Roseate Tern

Friday, 27 July 2018

Farmoor: 26 July am

With my recently increased free time, I thought I'd try a speculative mid-week visit to Farmoor (probably almost my first ever!). Nothing much had been reported, but it seemed that autumn migration was just about getting underway, and the dragonflies might be good given the expected hot conditions.

Arriving shortly after the 08:00 opening time, the causeway was initially quiet until I got almost over to the far side, when I encountered an adult Dunlin, still with its black belly. I only managed distant shots, and then met Dai on his way back.

A few minutes later he was excitedly pointing out a splendid group of 10+ Black Terns that had just flown in! They appeared quite close to the causeway twice but then disappeared, so I carried on with my plan of trying the various hides and pools down by the Thames for dragonflies in the continuing very hot weather.

Buckthorn and Shrike Meadows were relatively quiet with only a few Brown Hawkers and 1-2  Black-tailed Skimmers seen.

Moving on, the path by the Thames along the back of Pinkhill was more productive, with this obliging Common Darter, closely followed by an amazing small area that had at least 10 Brown Hawkers all hawking around over it. There were also a couple of Southern Hawkers and 1-2 Emperors as well.
Common Darter 

The Pinkhill hide was pretty quiet with only a few relatively distant Brown Hawkers and one or two Reed/Sedge Warbler keeping well hidden except for the occasional short flight from one set of reeds to the next.

Returning along the causeway, the Dunlin was still present, so I set about trying to get a closer photo than before, this time with a more successful end result:


Thereafter, I was almost back at the car park when I came across a person with a 'scope who said the Black Terns were still present - but in the far SW corner of FII. So I made my way there, only to find they were quite distant, with six all resting a reasonable way out beyond the pontoon. Still it seemed worth some shots. When they flew off to feed it was unfortunately away from the shore, so I didn't get any flight shots.

Still a more successful visit than I was expecting!

Four of the six Black Terns